General and Flag Officer Costs

Annual Cost Estimates for General and Flag Officers and Supporting Personnel

by David Knapp, Michael Vasseur, Hannah Acheson-Field, Jonathan Welch, Lisa M. Harrington

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Posted on April 15, 2020.

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Research Question

  1. What are the average annual total costs of typical G/FO positions as well as the annual total costs of specific G/FO positions?

This report documents a framework for estimating the costs of general and flag officers (G/FOs) and their support personnel and applies it to estimate these costs for fiscal year 2018. This cost-estimating framework is consistent with the requirements of Section 596 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The authors estimate average annual total costs of typical G/FOs as well as the annual total costs of specific G/FO positions. G/FO positions differ in several key characteristics, including location, nature of position, organizational type, and function. These differences can substantially influence cost estimates of G/FOs and their support personnel. The authors find that average total direct costs of typical G/FOs and their support staff increases with pay grade from $600,000 for O-7 pay grades up to $3 million for O-10 pay grades. The cost increase primarily reflects staff increases in roles that support general or flag officers in the execution of their duties and responsibilities. We find costs of specific G/FO positions vary substantially by nature of position, organizational type, and functional area. Estimated costs range from $270,000 for O-7 pay grades with no staff or travel to more than $10 million for O-10 pay grades that receive continuous protection and are required to use government aircraft for official travel. If consistently and repeatedly collected, these average annual cost estimates can be used to identify trends in G/FO costs over time.

Key Findings

  • Average annual total direct costs of typical G/FOs and their support staff increases with pay grade from $600,000 for O-7 pay grades up to $3 million for O-10 pay grades.
  • Costs of specific G/FO positions vary substantially by nature of position, organizational type, and functional area.
  • Estimated costs range from $270,000 annually for G/FOs in pay grade O-7 with no support personnel to more than $10 million annually for G/FOs in pay grade O-10 who receive continuous protection and are required to use government aircraft for official travel (e.g., service chiefs).
  • High G/FO cost estimates are primarily driven by the direct costs of supporting personnel, including continuous security details and the cost of military air travel for personnel required to use it.

Recommendations

  • Develop a framework for estimating marginal costs of upgrading or downgrading G/FO positions.
  • If G/FO position cost estimates are repeated in the future, then (1) exclude G/FO official residence costs from future G/FO cost estimates of specific G/FO positions, (2) exclude G/FO training costs as a separate cost category in future G/FO cost estimates, (3) exclude the cost of protection detail extraordinary equipment from future G/FO cost estimates of specific G/FO positions, (4) incorporate tax advantage into the cost of G/FOs and their support personnel in future G/FO cost estimates, (5) collect data that link specific personnel to their authorized position and include in a common data system, (6) develop standardized position titles and manning document structure across the services and joint organizations, (7) collect or make available U.S. Navy civilian manpower authorizations in a single database to facilitate estimation of civilian support costs, and (8) collect unit identification codes reflecting the unit a service member is assigned to in the U.S. Marine Corps and department identification code for joint duty assignments.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    General and Flag Officer Cost-Estimating Framework

  • Chapter Three

    Typical General and Flag Officer Cost Estimates

  • Chapter Four

    Specific G/FO Cost Estimates

  • Chapter Five

    Summary and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    G/FO Cost Estimates for Specific Positions

  • Appendix B

    Categorization and Association of Support Positions

This research was sponsored by the Office of Military Personnel Policy and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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